Taking place in AD 2173, Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars shares the same universe as a previously released PlayStation 2 game; a world where flying mechanized robots and space travel within the solar system is a reality. Enders throws the player into the midst of action right from the very beginning when Cage, the protagonist, is caught aboard a downed ship named the Bonaparte III. Soon thereafter, Cage finds himself embroiled in a rebellion movement and after demonstrating success at tactical combat, will become more and more important to the freedom fighters on Mars.
While Enders has a frenetic feeling in the beginning, the game slowly devolves into a long and extensive story about Cage and the many characters that come with him, interspersed with equally lengthy battle scenes. Enders on the GBA plays out its tactical sequences with a classical top-down view. You move fighters, tanks and said robots turn by turn to defeat your enemy but you have the option to have a real hand in how combat is dealt. Most turn-based games roll some sort of dice, calculate some statistics or play paper-rock-scissors to resolve combat. In Enders, you're allowed to actually take control of your combat sequences through what Konami calls the interactive action sequence. If you're attacking, you effectively control the reticule and must aim at the enemy. This gives you greater control over whether you want to go for critical hits on specific components of the enemy and supposedly keeps the gamer involved.
It's an interesting spin on a dour genre. Turn-based strategy games in
North America are taking a beating lately with only some classic titles like Civilization III really getting popular acclaim. Unfortunately, while the turn strategy part is in-depth, Enders' action sequences are more of a diversion and not much of a challenge. In offense, you only need to manoeuvre until you can get a clean shot at your opponent. On the other side of the coin, you're trying to jinx, shake or do whatever you can to prevent your opponent from getting a shot at you. Its one on-one type play really feels like a high-tech western style shootout, since in the end, that's what it amounts to.
You can opt to have this feature off but closer to the end of the game, the odds against you are stacked higher and this interactive action system, though more time consuming than having the computer churn out a dice-rolled result, is really one of the few advantages you have. There's extensive material on the statistics and even mythology around the opponents, machinery and craft you command. It's all provided in game, which is a nice touch but it also touches upon the game's fundamental weakness.
Simply put, Enders is a loquacious and wordy game. The expansive material presented may have demonstrated its depth on the PlayStation 2 but Enders' heavy plot actually gets in the way, particularly when the script reads out like all Japanese RPGs. With the restrictive GBA screen, it's often hard to follow half a dozen lines of dialogue when only two lines are displayed. Coupled with the fact that the writers tend to use lots of ellipses and verbal grunts for dramatic effect, the reading time is artificially extended. In the first scene alone, there are five or six actors, each having a good paragraph of dialogue or two. Recently, I also looked at another equally loquacious game in Broken Sword. There, topics were separated into intuitive and dynamic icons. The font was clear and easily legible. Enders lacks that kind of accessibility even though it has a comparable amount of material to illustrate in its twenty-five missions. I found myself reading it over and over because of the clumsy interface. Unfortunately, this doesn't display depth of material. Rather, it displays ignorance for the platform the developers are aiming for.
Despite its relative simplicity in resolving combat, Enders is an enjoyable turn-based strategy game, provided you have the patience to figure out the lay of the story as well as feel out the game itself. There's no tutorial component and unfortunately, it could be a good five minutes before you get access to the archives to actually become inundated in the fiction universe. Many people claim Enders' battle sequences are itself, worth the price of admission into the universe.
For me, that wasn't quite so. To a certain extent, it is a hackneyed attempt to introduce some life into what is otherwise the boredom of turn-based games. There's no particular strategy (ironically) in the arcade sequences and unlike a real western style shoot-out, all the enemies are carbon copies of each other, lacking any unique personality or distinct character.
The other parts of the game, the anime style graphics, music and effects are pleasant. They aren't riveting or genre-busting but I don't think any serious game fan has any qualms against anime style. The strategy part is simplistic but interesting and the story, provided you're able to map it all out in your head, can be worth it. It tries to incorporate romantic overtures as well as humor but in a juvenile sense, like Star Wars' Attack of the Clones. Ultimately, this game doesn't seem to be the type of game James and Mary Jane down the street will be talking about. If I could find an analogy, the target audience Konami will undoubtedly wow will be the 'art house', foreign film loving type who mope around at Cannes. That's the type of gamer, especially those enamored with overseas story-based RPGs, who will be able to appreciate this.